What to do if your car is broken into

Having your car broken into can be stressful and disheartening, and unfortunately, it's far from a rare occurrence.

In fact, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, vehicle break-ins and thefts are on the rise across the United States.

When your car has been broken into, you’ll want to take care of any damage, replace any stolen items, and get your life back to some sense of normalcy as soon as possible. To expedite the process while protecting your identity and finances, there are a few things you should do.

1. File a police report

As soon as you realize the vehicle break-in has occurred, contact your local police department so you can file a formal report. Filing a police report can be helpful for investigatory purposes—especially if the perpetrator is caught and found carrying any of your possessions. Likewise, if you're thinking about filing a claim with your insurance company, you'll likely need a police report.

As you wait for an officer to arrive and complete your report, make sure you have the following documentation ready (if possible):

  • Your driver's license or ID
  • Vehicle registration and insurance
  • A list of any items stolen from your vehicle

This is also a good time to document the scene as much as possible. Take photos and/or videos of your vehicle inside and out, as these can also be useful for a police report.

2. Protect your identity and finances

You'll also need to take some preventive measures for your personal identity and finances if items stolen from your car contained sensitive information, such as your address, birthdate, or even a Social Security number. If a thief obtains such information, it can potentially be used to steal your identity or open up other accounts in your name. 

The best way to protect yourself is to place a fraud alert on your credit report through any of the major reporting bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). You only need to contact one; they will then contact the other 2. This helps prevent identity theft by requiring your identity to be verified anytime a new account is opened in your name. It’s not guaranteed, though, as some creditors may not conduct a thorough check before opening a new line of credit.

Likewise, if any credit cards or debit cards were stolen from your vehicle during the break-in, be sure to reach out to your banks immediately to have the cards deactivated before the thief can make purchases or withdraw funds from your accounts.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to report identity theft

3. Consider filing an insurance claim

One of the most common questions people have after a vehicle break-in is whether it's worth it to file an insurance claim. Ultimately this depends on the extent of the theft and damage, the type of coverage you carry, and what your deductible is. In many cases, homeowners insurance or renters insurance will cover the cost to replace items that were stolen from your car, so long as the items aren't permanently affixed (such as a stereo or sound system).

If there is damage to your car as a result of the break-in (such as a shattered window), consider whether you have comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance that will pay for the auto glass replacement. From there, calculate whether the cost of the repair exceeds your out-of-pocket deductible for comprehensive claims. If so, it will likely be worth filing a claim to save some money.

Tips to avoid future break-ins

While you can't always prevent a car break-in, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of falling victim again.

  • Work quickly to schedule any necessary repairs so that your vehicle won't be vulnerable to additional break-ins. 
  • Take care not to leave any valuables in your car and always lock your doors—even if you’re only leaving your car for a few minutes. 
  • If your car is equipped with an anti-theft or alarm system, make sure you're using it every time you leave your vehicle.
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